I travelled to a classroom located in midtown Manhattan early one Saturday morning to become one of these volunteers. I was greeted by two wish coordinators, a table of breakfast foods and coffee, and a room full of nearly 20 eager volunteers. I situated myself toward the back of the room and listened to our two instructors, who were to train us over the next several hours (it sounds like a lot but it goes by quickly).
We began by going around the room one-by-one to explain why we wanted to volunteer. One person had lost a boyfriend to cancer, while another had herself been granted a wish as a child, and another was retired and wanted to give back to a valuable child-centric cause.
“The people that I work with and the volunteers that I’ve met through this job have become friends,” training instructor Lillian Hertzberg, senior manager of wish granting for Make-A-Wish Metro New York and Western New York, told me at the seminar. “Here you meet people who have similar values and similar goals and who are excited by things other than monetary gain. I always feel good at the end of the day about what I do.”
Hertzberg has been working for Make-A-Wish for 13 years. Her thorough knowledge of the organization is evident as she answers questions and highlights key facts for us to know.
“Some of these wishes are just so incredibly magical,” Hertzberg reminisced. “One of the kids wished to dig for dinosaur bones. He wanted to be a paleontologist. They sent him out to Montana where they found a lot of dinosaur bones and he worked with a real paleontologist. He actually found the tooth of a T-Rex inside another dinosaur. They realized that they both died at the time the T-Rex was eating. So, to him this was the most amazing thing.”
Those personal details are at the core of what makes the wish-granting process work so seamlessly. At the training seminar, volunteer candidates role-played interviewing children for their wishes. We asked one another about our favorite colors, celebrities, and subjects in school. We laughed and struggled at certain points to cover the entirety of each question, but came away realizing how truly intimate the Make-A-Wish process really is to learn the one true wish of each wish child. The mission of the organization is palpable the moment you meet a staff members or volunteers and become acutely aware of how sincere they are about the role they play.
For this article, I also reached out to a few current Make-A-Wish volunteers for their perspectives on what it’s like to give time to this organization. Many of them said that this is the most gratifying part of their lives – a true wish given back to them – to be part of these children’s lives. But then I asked the question that may worry some potential volunteers. “How can you handle seeing children who are suffering?” One volunteer, Marta, said it best, “It is humbling for me and reminds me to put things into perspective. People often ask me how I can handle seeing sick children, and I say sometimes things can't be about you or your feelings; you have to step outside yourself for a minute and focus on that child, and what can you do right now to help. This gives me an opportunity to help transform a child’s life and make them happier than you can imagine. Granting a wish affects everyone who is touched – forever.”
Every year, 25,000 Make-A-Wish volunteers play an essential role in granting wishes for children all over the world. Whether they fulfill the role of wish granter, office worker, translator, fundraiser, speaker, or event help, Make-A-Wish volunteers dedicate their time to transform the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions.